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LITTLE TOKYO : Status of Memorial Concerns Veterans

October 23, 1994|TOMMY LI

A veterans group is concerned that its plan to build a World War II memorial to honor Japanese American soldiers could remain in limbo after the City Council's decision to drop the 1st Street North development.

"We were ready to build three years ago," said Hank Yoshitake, former president of the 100th/442nd Veterans Assn. "We don't have 10, 15 years to wait. . . . We want to have it built while we're still here."

The group and the Military Intelligence Service Club of Southern California--both made up mainly of World War II Japanese American veterans--formed a memorial foundation in 1988 and have raised more than $600,000 for the monument.

Their efforts came in response to city officials' request for a community-financed war memorial to be erected in the 1st Street North project area, bounded by Temple, San Pedro, 1st and Alameda streets.

The proposed monument would resemble a hill to signify the sites of the battles that the Asian American soldiers fought in Europe. It would be 40 feet in diameter and 9 feet tall. Similar to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, it would be made of black granite, with names of nearly 15,000 Japanese American soldiers etched on the reverse and an explanation of the monument on the front, foundation members said.

"It's supposed to focus in on the reason why these young men and women went overseas in spite of what was going on back home," such as the forced internment of Japanese Americans, Yoshitake said.

A developer's plans had called for it to be prominently featured in a 20,000-square-foot plaza, between the Museum of Contemporary Art's Temporary Contemporary and the Japanese American National Museum, he said. It also would have been surrounded by a city office tower, a 500-room hotel, shops and apartments.

Although the council voted to drop that project Oct. 5, it did agree to keep the memorial proposal alive and provide "adequate space at the city's 1st Street North property" near the Japanese American National Museum and the Temporary Contemporary.

Nevertheless, Yoshitake, 69, and foundation President Young O. Kim, 75, are concerned that if the developer follows through on his threat to sue the council over its rejection of the 1st Street North project, the property could be left undeveloped for years.

The foundation plans to hold a meeting next month to consider alternative sites in Little Tokyo for the memorial project.

"We are not committed to any area right now," said Yoshitake. "If (city officials) put us somewhere in the corner . . . that may not be what we want."

Chris O'Donnell, a chief legislative analyst for the council, said the city is committed to seeing the memorial through and placing it in a visible location near 1st and Alameda streets.

"It's not supposed to be stuck in the corner," O'Donnell said. "The intention is to provide public space that is highly accessible and highly visible."

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